Trent University Opening Ceremonies

The following is the speech delivered by President T. H. B. Symons at the opening of Trent University on 17 October 1964; contained within it are references to the philosophy that served to inspire the early years of the University and Peter Robinson College. This philospophy and tradition directly inspired the repurchase campaign that established Sadleir House in its current form.


It is my privilege and pleasant duty to welcome you here today at the official opening of Trent University. I do so most warmly and I thank you for coming to join with us in celebrating this happy occasion.

We are, of course, particularly honoured and delighted that Their Excellencies, the Governor-General and Madame Vanier, have been able to grace this meeting with their presence, and that the Governor-General has consented to declare Trent University open.

It is surely a good omen for our national sense of values in Canada when the first citizen of our land is prepared to place first upon his heavy agenda participation in matters educational as he is doing here today, and as he will be doing again on Monday when he goes on to St. Catharines, there also to declare open a new university, our sister institution, Brock University, to whom we send warm greetings and good wishes today.

The presence of the Governor-General is a reminder, too, of the fact that, in founding a university here in Peterborough, we are doing something which will be of interest and service to all Canada, and which is of national as well as of local significance.

Nous sommes fiers, votre Excellence, que notre premier collège portera le nom de Champlain, ce qui témoigne, d'une part, que nous restons sensibles à l'histoire de notre pays et, d'autre part, que l'université Trent tient à forger des liens durables entre les deux races qui, ensemble, ont jeté les fondements du Canada.

It is also fitting and a happy thing that the Honourable Mr. Davis, the Minister of Education and of University Affairs of our Province, is able to be with us and to take part in this occasion. The charter which Trent University holds was conferred by an Act of the Legislature of Ontario which received Royal Assent on the sixth of March, 1963. Moreover, this University has benefited enormously – indeed has been made possible – by the substantial, the understanding, and the enlightened support which has been given to it by the Province, acting upon the advice of the University Affairs Committee and under the leadership of the Minister.

Nevertheless, Trent University is in a special sense related to the community in which it is located – to Peterborough, to the Valley of the Trent, and to Eastern Ontario. No new university has received a greater measure of support from its home community – for which heartfelt thanks – as well as from many friends across the nation. It was this support and in the final analysis the dedicated service given by men and women here in this community – many of whom are present today – which made Trent University possible and brought it into being.

It also gave to the University much of the special character and outlook which already make it distinctive. Located in the historic Valley of the Trent, and in this old Ontario city of Peterborough with its long tradition of interest in the arts and letters it is natural that this University should feel a particular interest in the study of history and culture of its community and of our nation. It is very much the hope and wish of everyone associated with Trent University that it may become in the fullness of time a useful and significant centre for Canadian studies. By this is meant the study of our Canadian civilization – for such there surely is – in its totality: its history, literature, art and institutions, its people, and its sciences. In relation to this programme, Trent University is planning in the near future to give sponsorship and support to a new quarterly, to be named a Journal of Canadian Studies.

The magnificent permanent site of Trent University will also be a factor in shaping its character in the years to come. This campus, comprising as it does some 1,500 acres of rolling and forested land, straddling the historic Otonabee River for nearly two miles, and on the very edge of the Canadian Shield, is surely one of the loveliest of any university in the world; and it holds open for the University the doors of opportunity to an exciting and unlimited future.

But the character of this University is related to even deeper considerations than these striking physical factors of site and location – important though these are. It is the product primarily of the men and women who serve it and who are a part of it: of the founders and the donors, the governors and the staff, the students and – one day – the alumni.

Thus many people have already contributed to the character of Trent University in the seven years which have elapsed since the Citizens' Committee was first formed in 1957 to explore the possibility of creating a university in this area. Much of this time has been devoted to thought and planning for the University by two major groups – the Academic Planning Committee and the Campus Planning Committee, ably assisted by some distinguished and experienced advisers – as well as to the essential activity of the Founding Board and sponsors in rallying funds and public support. In consequence, it may fairly be said that Trent has benefited from a programme of careful study and intensive planning extending over a number of years. Your Excellency, we have found that in this age of instant coffee and even instant tea, there is still no such thing as instant university or, indeed, as instant education.

The founders of Trent were able and willing to look afresh at every facet of university life, to examine all possibilities, and to experiment and to pioneer whenever and however they saw fit. From this process of study and planning has emerged a university with a distinctive philosophy and a character of its own, which may guide it and perhaps inspire it through the years to come.

The philosophy which inspires Trent is based upon the conviction that education is, inescapably, an individual experience – individual to each student, to each teacher, and to every scholar who may come to it. And this philosophy is reflected in the teaching methods of Trent University which seek to encourage each student to find a close and a direct contact with his teachers through the tutorial and seminar approach to instruction. The founders of Trent have kept in mind the dictum of Henry Adams that “A teacher is for eternity. One can never tell where his influence ceases,” and they have thought therefore to place the first emphasis upon creating a university here in which the standards of teaching and of scholarship are the prime concern.

This philosophy of our University is also reflected in the decision that Trent should be a collegiate university – that is, that it should be made up of a number of smaller, sister colleges, which will be the fundamental units and the chief features of Trent University. Every student and every faculty member at Trent will belong to one or another of these colleges. In this way, through the colleges, members of the University may be helped to preserve a sense of individual identity as the University grows larger, and to find richer personal associations and a greater measure of academic assistance than would otherwise be the case.

May I pass upon a more personal note? I was deeply honoured when the Founding Board invited me, in May of 1961, to undertake the Presidency of Trent University. I have appreciated greatly and I thank you now publicly for the unfailing support, and the confidence and co-operation which have been extended to me since that time by the Board, and, too, by this community – of which my wife and I are very happy to be new citizens, by an interested and widely diverse public stretching across the land, by the government of our Province, by a dedicated and distinguished staff, and – most recently – by our students. This has made my task a most pleasant and rewarding one.

Your Excellencies, looking back upon what has already been accomplished at Trent, looking upon those who are its present Board and staff and student members, and looking upon this heartwarming gathering today, I am moved to hope – and to believe – that we are establishing here a great University, one of excellent standards and of fine character. May it give service to this community, to this Province, to Canada, and to many scholars from lands overseas through generations yet to come.

Thank you.

- T. H. B. Symons, Opening Ceremonies, 17 October 1964

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